No good options: Vietnam POW shares story of captivity (John Yuill)

It was the hardest thing Lt. Col. John Yuill had to do after the B-52 Stratofortress he and five crewmembers were flying in over Hanoi, Vietnam, was struck by two surface-to-air missiles on Dec. 22, 1972, during their third mission in four days as part of Linebacker II. It was also a reminder from his Dash-1, the owner’s manual for the B-52, that helped him make a decision that would save his life as well as the five other Airmen aboard the bomber.

Yuill, now retired, recounted the day he became a prisoner of war with Airmen at Sheppard AFB as part of POW/MIA Day events.

The flight commander only had a few moments to make a decision on whether to stay with the aircraft and get out of the area, or have everyone bail out over enemy territory.

“I felt there were no good options,” the 84-year-old said. “I sure as hell wasn’t interested in jumping out of that airplane. I had been flying airplanes for 15 years and never stepped out of one in flight. I wasn’t interested in doing that in the first place and I really wasn’t interested in doing it over enemy territory where I had been bombing their capital for three days.”

Yuill made the decision for the crew to bail out, the beginning of his more than three months in captivity.

The colonel landed in an agriculture area not far from a barn. He recalled getting out of his parachute and taking off his helmet when he began hearing voices in the distance and was soon surrounded by about a dozen people. The North Vietnamese people, he said, helped him out of his flight gear, all the way down to his underwear.

“I was standing there in my shorts,” he said. “It was a bit nippy, even for North Vietnam.”

But, he was alive. What’s more, he was surprised by the way the group had reacted toward him. He expected to see hatred, he said, but what was in their eyes was curiosity.

After being moved to a couple locations the first two days, his group eventually came upon what appeared to be two enemy military members. One, he said, had what he had initially anticipated – a look of hatred and that he’d be tortured if they were alone.

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